NBA concedes contraction could be on table

October 25, 2010

NBA Commissioner David Stern said Friday he thinks eliminating teams will be on the table during collective bargaining as a way to solve the league’s financial woes.

“It’s a sensitive subject for me because I’ve spent 27 years in this job working very hard not only to maintain all of our teams, but along the way add a few,” Stern said during his preseason conference call.

“But I think that’s a subject that will be on the table with the players as we look to see what’s the optimum way to present our game, and are there cities and teams that cannot make it in the current economic environment. I’m not spending a lot of time on it.” first reported Thursday that the league would “continue to be open to contraction,” after Stern said he wanted player costs reduced by $700-800 million.

That set off predictable panic in some small-market cities whose teams have struggled on the court and at the gate. Asked if contraction should be a chilling word in Memphis, Stern said: “No, it shouldn’t be. It’s a good word to use, especially in collective bargaining.”

The players likely would fight contraction because of the loss of jobs it would entail.

“That would be more for them in their decision-making process than ours,” union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers said. “We have a responsibility to protect as many jobs as we possibly can, so that would be more for the commissioner and the league and the owners to make a decision on contraction and numbers of teams and those things.”

For now, Stern is more interested in making teams in smaller markets competitive and profitable than he is in taking them away.

“I would say that we’re committed to small market teams,” Stern said. “We are going to have a new CBA eventually and we’re going to have a more robust revenue sharing.”

The labor deal between the league and players is set to expire June 30, and Stern revealed Thursday the league wants salary costs slashed by one-third in the next agreement. The union released a statement later Thursday in which executive director Billy Hunter said the owners’ stance could lead to a lockout and loss of part or all the 2011-12 season.

“I don’t believe that Billy wrote that, because he wouldn’t threaten me with a lockout,” Stern said. “And all I can say is that’s what negotiations are for and we’re looking forward to our next negotiating session.”

Stern disclosed other aspects that could be part of a new deal. Though the owners are seeking a hard salary cap, Stern thinks any system will continue to give teams a financial edge when re-signing their own players, which they currently enjoy through the use of the Bird exception.

The commissioner also said the idea of a “franchise player” is an interesting concept that he believes will come up in bargaining. NFL teams have a franchise tag designation they can use on their own player, something NBA owners may want after a summer in which LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire left their clubs, and Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul reportedly decided they want to do the same.

Deputy commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday the league is projecting losses of $340-$350 million this season, and Stern reiterated Friday that major economic changes are needed.

“I would say the league is viable as long as you have owners who want to continue funding losses. But it’s not on the long term a sustainable business model that we’re happy to be supporting,” Stern said. “It needs to be reset.”

Stern also provided contrasting updates on the NBA’s two Northern California teams, saying he still expects the sale of the Golden State Warriors to close next week. However, his optimism for a new arena in Sacramento has “faded completely.”

Otherwise, it was largely labor talk for the second straight day. And despite the large gap between the sides, Stern maintained he is still optimistic about reaching a deal.

“We know we’re going to get an agreement done, and we think that the enthusiasm of the season and the prospective growth that it will ultimately represent will enable us to sit down with the players and negotiate in good faith, and we both seem intent on doing all that we can to reach a deal,” he said.